Jerry West; Wilt Chamberlain; Brian Fuentes/Bob Geren/Billy Beane; Sharks; Barry Zito
DO YOU THINK the Warriors would like to turn the clock back 10 years?
At that time, there was considerable speculation that Jerry West would come to the Warriors as general manager. Warriors owner Chris Cohan told me it wasn’t going to happen, so I didn’t write it. Now, the speculation is that West wanted to clean house and Cohan wouldn’t agree. I can’t say because Cohan didn’t explain why West wasn’t coming at that time, but knowing how speculation feeds on itself these days, I doubt that was the reason.
The last 10 years would certainly have been much better for the Warriors if West had been in charge because he proved with the Lakers that he knows how to build a winning team.
How much does it mean that he’s coming to the Warriors now? Hard to say because nobody can really say how involved West will be in the operation. At yesterday’s news conference in San Francisco he said he wouldn’t be making the final decision on trades, coaching choices and draft picks but he would have a strong voice in all of them.
There is also the question of how involved owners Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber will be. They were certainly involved in yesterday’s get-together to the extreme, flanking West on the podium, while general manager Larry Riley and his assistant, Bob Myers, were both off stage.
Lacob and Gruber know the NBA but I’m always nervous when owners want to get heavily involved. It’s more common in the NBA than it is in other pro leagues and it can work – the Dallas Mavericks are a game away from the NBA Finals, and Mark Cuban is very actively involved in that operation – but it’s not ideal. It won’t bother West, who worked with Jerry Buss in Los Angeles, but Riley and Myers may be somewhat intimidated.
It will also take West some time to get up to speed on the Warriors. He talked around the elephant in the room – whether the Warriors can ever win with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry as their backcourt – and talked in generalities about the rest of the roster, saying only that they needed to get more size upfront, which everybody in the room already knew.
He did insist he’d be spending quite a bit of time with the Warriors in Oakland, not just dropping in now and then. He emphasized that he intends to spend some time at practice. “I think you can learn a lot at practice,” he said.
Lacob and Gruber, especially Lacob, seem to be driving the coaching search so far. Without mentioning specific names, West said he was impressed with the names on the list.
Despite his lack of familiarity with the roster, West insisted he’d be very disappointed if the Warriors didn’t make the playoffs next season. That was probably his competiive nature speaking. He’s been with winners throughout his dual career, as first a player and then an executive.
But, this is certainly a different role for him. He’s always been the driving force; now, he’s more of an advisor than a decision maker. He should be able to help the Warriors, but I can’t help wishing he’d been here 10 years ago.
WARRIORS TRADES: There were readers who e-mailed me about the bad moves the Warriors have made since they’ve been in the Bay Area, but two of the trades – Wilt Chamerlain and Robert Parish – weren’t as bad as they seemed.
Wilt’s trade was a financial necessity for Franklin Mieuli. Home teams keep all the gate in the NBA so, though Wilt was a big draw on the road, he was nothing at home because fans weren’t interested in seeing him score a lot of points in an inevitable Warriors loss. Meanwhile, he had a big contract. The Warriors got very little in exchange but that’s always true in a forced trade like that.
The Parish trade, the Warriors No. 3 in the draft for the chance to move up to No. 1 to get Joe Barry Carroll looked very bad in retrospect because Carroll was a stiff and the Celtics got Kevin McHale to team with Parish and Larry Bird. But leading up to the draft, NBA people thought Carroll was going to be the next great big man in the NBA. Who could have known he didn’t have a heart?
The move I really fault the Warriors for was the drafting of Chris Washburn. The first time I tried to interview Washburn, I was astounded at his low intelligence. He was trying to be cooperative but could barely answer simple questions. I’ve always wondered how the Warriors thought he could ever be a good NBA player? And, of course, he wasn’t.
BOB GEREN: It was easy to dismiss Brian Fuentes’ complaints about A’s manager Bob Geren because he has been pitching poorly and his comments came after he’d lost his sixth game. But Fuentes’ comments were right on target: Geren is a bad manager making bad decisions and not communicating well with his players. Beat writers have told me other players have complained to them, too, but off the record. Former closer Huston Street, now with the Rockies, said Geren was “my least favorite person” in his years in sport. Dennis Eckersley said “you just pitch”, but Eckersley’s manager was Tony La Russsa, who is in a different league from Geren. Eckersley admitted that Tony would never have shifted roles for his pitchers, as Geren has.
The most important job for a manager is handling his pitchers, and Geren is abysmal at that. I wrote earlier about his leaving Brett Anderson in when Anderson had neither good stuff or good command, until Anderson gave up seven runs.In the inter-league series with the Giants at AT&T, Geren pinch-hit for Anderson after just 91 pitches and said that, if it had been an American League game, he’d have taken Anderson out, too. Huh? Anderson had given up one run in five innings.
His handling of his bullpen has been even worse. The A’s don’t have a dominating closer, at least until Andrew Bailey returns. Fuentes doesn’t have a good fast ball any more, which is crucial for a closer. I’ve thought he would be better as a setup man in the eighth with Grant Balfour pitching the ninth.
Balfour gave up the game-tying home run to Nate Schierholtz in the Sunday game but otherwise, he’s been lights out. And the pitch he threw to Schierholtz was a good one that Schierholtz was able to dig out and hit down the right field line. That happens.
Fuentes’ complaint was that the relievers don’t know their roles. He hasn’t been used in a save situation though he’s supposed to be the closer in his last six outings. Relievers prepare before they come in, not just with their warmups but their stretches. If they can’t be sure when they’ll be used, their routines are upset.
Geren finally announced a change from Fuentes to Balfour as the closer, so at least their roles are defined now, though they’ll change when Bailey returns.
The A’s haven’t been hitting, so in that situation, a manager should be trying to manufacture runs. Stealing bases is one way, but the steals – mostly from Coco Crisp – seem to come on the player’s initiative, not Geren’s. Playing “little ball” by bunting and using the hit-and-run could help, but Geren doesn’t do any of that. He just sits there waiting for home runs from a team that won’t have anybody hitting as many as 25 homers this season.
There are problems beyond Geren’s scope. Third base has been a disaster area all season, as Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andy La Roche have taken turns proving they can’t do the job. Now, Conor Jackson is taking a shot there. I like Jackson, a good hitter when he’s healthy, and he did play third at Cal, so he’s no stranger to the position. Long term, Adam Rosales is on the way back from a long injury/surgery recovery, and he’s a good player, though not a power hitter.
Hideki Matsui, who the A’s hoped would supply power, has not, and his career is winding down. I think by the All-Star break, the A’s will probably have to let him go and either rotate the DH among their surplus outfielders or bring up Chris Carter from Sacramento.
But the big issue remains the manager – and what Billy Beane will do about the problem.
Beane has had three managers since he became general manager. He inherited Art Howe, a very nice man, even to me, though I criticized him relentlessly. Steve Kettman, then the A’s beat writer for The Chronicle, thought my criticism came because Howe had “snubbed” me at a meet-and-greet with local writers when he was first hired, but both Howe and I knew that wasn’t true and discussed it at one meeting between us. We had first met during his playing career with the Houston Astros and talked then, so there was no need for him to introduce himself to me.
My criticism of Howe was pretty much the same as Beane’s. He was too nice a guy with his players, not insisting that they give their best. The worst example was Terence Long, whom Howe kept playing even when he wasn’t producing, just to keep his consecutive game streak alive.
Howe’s mindset was also his experience as a player, and he made no allowance for changes in game strategy since then. He and Beane had frequent disagreements and his departure was a foregone conclusion.
Ken Macha followed Howe and did a very good job. Macha was and is a tough-minded manager. He told players that they made out the lineup: if they played well, they stayed in it; if they didn’t, they were on the bench. Long was one of those who landed quickly on the bench.
That kind of manager is often unpopular with players - Dick Williams is probably the classic example – but they also win. The last time the A’s were in the playoffs was with Macha, but Beane didn’t get along with him off the field, so Macha was gone.
Beane waited to name his replacement because he wanted Ron Washington, the players’ choice, to get another job. When the Rangers hired Washington, he then appointed Geren. We both thought Geren would be a better manager than Washington, and we were both wrong.
.Though the manager is less important than the head coach in football, baseball people have always felt the best managers can make a positive improvement of six wins and the worst can cost a team six losses. Right now, Bob Geren looks like a minus-6 guy.
The question is, how long can he last? If he wants to save this season, Beane should act quickly, but I doubt that he will. I think he’ll most likely let Geren finish out his contract this year.
The next hiring will be a supreme test for Beane. If he is willing to set his ego aside and hire a tough-minded manager, the A’s could become a playoff team again. But it won’t happen if he hires another manager just because he’s a friend.
GOODBYE, SHARKS: Now that the Sharks have again been eliminated in the playoffs, we can safely predict an end of “Sharks Fever” until the next postseason.
Many people get excited about a team when it gets into the playoffs. One of my readers said he thought there would be an upsurge in hockey popularity in the Bay Area next year, an opinion he apparently based on the fact that his wife was excited about watching them on TV in the playoffs. I told him my wife was very excited about the Giants in the postseason last year and wanted to watch every pitch on TV. Nancy hasn’t watched a pitch in the regular season and won’t.
Though many people get excited about playoffs in any sport, it takes a real fan to stay with the team during a long regular season. The ones who do are usually people who have grown up with the sport.
The Sharks executives have been very smart, starting from the beginning. I asked Matt Levine, then the president of the team, why they had decided on San Jose, instead of San Francisco, where the Seals had been a strong minor league team, He said it was because they’d be overshadowed by the 49ers and Giants in San Francisco. “San Jose has nothing else,” he said, so they’d support the Sharks. To help that along, the Sharks started a program of “street hockey” where games could be simulated off the ice with young people. They also tapped into those who grew up with hockey and now live in other parts of the Bay Area. There is no other hockey team anywhere in the area, so they draw from all over the Bay Area.
My life started in a small town, Virginia, in northern Minnesota and I played and practiced hockey on the frozen playground of my school. I followed the sport closely and knew that there was an NHL goalie, Frankie Brimsek, from nearby Hibbing.
Had we stayed there, I probably would have gone to the University of Minnesota, then to a newspaper in the Twin Cities and I’d have written on the strategies of hockey, the power play and, well, the power play. There doesn’t seem to be much else.
But after my fourth grade year, my family moved to San Diego, where there were no frozen school yards. I forgot about hockey and started a life-long passion for baseball. For that and many, many other reasons, I’ve always been grateful to my parents for making that move!
LANCE ARMSTRONG: I was highly amused when Armstrong’s teammate, Tyler Hamilton, said he had seen Arnstrong injecting himself. “He took what we all took. . . There was EPO, there was testesterone.”
They all take it. That’s the point, though it’s one that seems beyond comprehension for many of my moralizing colleagues: Athletes will always try to do anything they can do to get an edge. Lately, it’s been steroids, and as for those baseball players from previous eras who are sanctimonious about current steroids use…the only reason they didn’t take them was because they weren’t available.
BAD NEWS BARRY: Zito threw off a mound and said he felt great, ready to return to the Giants. Wait a minute, Barry. The Giants are doing so well without you. Why don’t you just go to a spa and relax?
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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